Archive for September, 2012

Dealing With Factions

Sunday, September 30th, 2012

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Num 11: 25-29; James 5: 1-6: Mark 9: 38-43, 45, 47-49

By Deacon Larry Brockman


Factions!  We are plagued today by so much derisiveness and so many factions.  And that is unfortunate, because God wants us to be united as Christians; to be one as the Body of Christ.  In this country, the majority of us are Christians.  And yet, there are so many factions- Catholics, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists, Evangelicals, Mormons, and on and on.  How should we deal with the messages brought by these factions? 


Today’s scriptures tell us a little about that:  First, those who are outside our mainstream can still be prophets.  Their message can still be valid.  That means the Catholic message can apply to Baptists; the Baptist message can apply to Catholics, and so on.  And second, anyone who speaks as a prophet had better get it right because the penalty for those who mislead the faithful is severe.  These two messages in today’s scripture can really help us with dealing with the factions in our lives; they can help us to become one in the Body of Christ.


In our first reading, Moses rebukes Joshua.  Joshua wants Moses to stop two of the elders that were not physically with them from prophesying.  Eldad and Medad were not there when the Lord gave His Spirit- yet some of the Lord’s Spirit fell on them too.  Moses reply is clear- if God’s Spirit is with them, let them speak.  Similarly, John approaches Jesus in the Gospel to ask him to stop someone who heard Jesus message and who was casting out demons in Jesus name even though he was not following Jesus.  Jesus’ remarks were similar to Moses’-  “Do not prevent him” and “Whoever is not against us is for us”.  Notice that in both readings, there are people who are not in the mainstream, that are acting in God’s behalf; and the message is clear.  Leave them alone; let them work in the Lord’s name.


Many times we become tied so closely to our group that we automatically reject the message of anyone outside of that group because they are not in our mainstream.  When we do that, we tend to form factions.  My experience here at Westminster Towers is an example of a great ecumenical attitude by the staff, an attitude that breaks down the walls caused by factions and encourages unity.  Although this facility is run by the Presbyterian Church,   They have fostered a very welcoming attitude towards their Catholic Residents, and have invited both me and other Catholics to come here and minister to you.  Not only that, they have invited me to speak many times at their Wednesday ecumenical service.   And those experiences tend to help us build on what we jointly believe as Christians.


However, Jesus goes on to issue a stern warning about those who preach and teach.  He does this right after he complements those who act in His name.  Specifically, Jesus says:  “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe (in me) to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.”  Wow!  What a contrast.  That warning applies as well today as it did in Jesus’ time.  For those who teach and preach must get it right.  Because when you preach and teach you are leading others down a path.  And you share the responsibility for how they respond to your message.  If you help them, as was symbolized by giving water to one who needed it, that is great.  But if you mislead people, you are corrupting them and sealing your own doom.


And so, what is important is the message, not the messenger.  That is the first criteria.  If the message is all about the messenger, not God, then there is a problem.  And second, the message must be solidly based on the Gospel of Jesus Christ- not personal interpretation, not human precepts, not selfish interests; but on the values handed on in the Gospels and traditions of the Church. 

And so, I ask all of you to help build the Body of Chris,.especially in this wonderfully ecumenical institution.  Build on what you share together- faith in Jesus Christ.  And avoid factions that separate us as Christians. 

All Things Are Vanity

Thursday, September 27th, 2012

Thursday of the 25th Week in Ordinary Time

St. Vincent de Paul

Eccl 1: 2-11; Luke 9: 7-9

By Deacon Larry Brockman


So, “Nothing is new under the sun”.  And yet, our culture would like us to think otherwise.  Run out and get your new I-phone 5; or the new 3D TV technology; a new car with hybrid technology; or the latest in this year’s fashions.  We are getting close to the big shopping season when we will be told of all kinds of things new under the sun that we should run out and be the first to get.  But not according to our first reading.  So, which way is it?  


Well, it’s pretty clear the Bible, and not our society, has it right.  No matter how important any of the things of this life may seem to us, they are ultimately all passing away.  We can’t take them with us; and they don’t have any meaning where we all hope to go anyway. 


So what is the point of that first reading- to depress us?  I think not; rather, I think it is meant to uplift us.  Because these words from Ecclesiastes remind us that the world, and all the things that are of this world, whether they be fame, riches, power, possessions- whatever it may be of the world that captures our fancy- don’t make us happy.  Oh, they may fascinate us for a while, but eventually we get bored with them and ultimately they go away.  What remains is God and things of God.  The gifts of the Holy Spirit include Joy and Peace- these are the things that bring ultimate happiness.  And we have each other, because we form the body of Christ.  Lastly, we have the promise of everlasting life if we believe in God and His revelation to us; but we have to believe it enough to live our faith.  Those are the sources of happiness that lasts.


It isn’t so much that we should reject the things of the world but rather that we put them into the proper perspective.  They are gifts; we are stewards; and some of us have been more fortunate than others.  Consider that John the Baptist was very fortunate in the eyes of God.  He was, in Jesus’ own words, the greatest of men born of a woman, yett poor relative to the least in the Kingdom of God.  John lived a Spartan life; and did not hang on to the things of this world.  But He just did the will of God- acting as Jesus herald.  Look what happened to him in as told in today’s Gospel.  He was beheaded by the man of power.  Today, we honor John as saint; and can only hope that Herod repented of his way.  


Today is the feast of St. Vincent de Paul.  How appropriate that we be reminded today that the things of this world are passing.  Because if we can learn to share what we have rather than hoard it, we will have all learned the lesson of our first reading min a spirit of joy.  That all things are vanity, and there is nothing new under the sun.   

Dealing With Reality, Not Appearances

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

Thursday of the 24th Week in Ordinary Time

1 Cor 15: 1-11; Luke 7: 36-50

By Deacon Larry Brockman


Appearances can be deceiving- like in today’s Gospel.  First, there is the respected man of God- the Pharisee; and then there is the sinful woman.  Jesus praises the sinful woman, and pretty much blasts the respected man of God.  Why? Because of what is in their hearts and how that plays out in their lives.


The Pharisee is comfortable with himself and his position.  He has learned all the rules and is following them.  He thinks he has it made right where he is.  The sinful woman is not comfortable with herself.  She has broken all the rules and knows it.  She realizes something must be done.  Both have heard the message of Jesus.  The Pharisee is seeking validation by association.  It’s like he is saying:  “I will invite this man, the latest crave among the people, to my home; and by association with him, my perfect life will be validated.”  But the sinful woman wants only a chance to be forgiven.  She hears the message of Jesus, believes and repents.  She demonstrates her contrition and faithfulness with actions not words.  On the one hand, we have complacency, comfort and inaction.  On the other hand, we have faith, contrition, and growth.


St. Paul echoes the faith and humility of the sinful woman.  He persecuted the Church, and he realized his sin.  But by the grace of God- the grace of God- he saw the light, and became a believer.  And by the grace of God, he said “I am what I am”.  Yes indeed, Paul was the greatest of the evangelists to the Gentiles.  Similarly, by the grace of God- after hearing the message, repenting, and coming to believe, the sinful woman reaches out and does something.    Do we see this contrast today- this contrast between people like the Pharisee who have settled in on a way of life and the sinful woman who realizes that more is required of her?  Because Jesus message applies to us today as well.


God is always calling us to change, to conversion.  It is a life-long process.  Our growth as Christians isn’t over when we become confirmed and go out into the secular world to make a living; it doesn’t end when we have children; it doesn’t end when the children grow up; and it doesn’t end when we retire.  Our challenge to recognize our imperfections; repent; and trust in the will of God, to move out and do something that grows us as Christians, is always there till the day we die. 


Our humility and willingness to respond to God come from the heart.  They are not always visible from the image we portray.   Indeed, don’t let appearances be deceiving.   

Following The Spirit, Not the Teacher

Thursday, September 6th, 2012

Thursday of the 22nd Week in Ordinary Time

1 Cor 3: 18-23; Luke 5: 1-11

By Deacon Larry Brockman


A fish story!  We just heard a whopper of a fish story.  So, let me ask this:  What is the point of catching all those fish, and then just leaving them all on the beach?  After all, these men, Peter, James, and John depended on those fish for their livelihood. 

You see, the point is that this fish catch just so monumental that the fish simply don’t matter afterward.  These fisherman- Peter, James, and John, knew what they were doing.  They had years of experience, the wisdom of the world on fishing.  They fished when the tide was right, at the right time of the day, and in the right places- and nothing.  And then, this fellow comes along, and tells them some things about God from the boat, and after that, contrary to everything they know, that is, contrary to all their worldly and conventional wisdom, He tells them to put out their nets and fish.  And the catch is monumental, the best of their lives.  It’s like someone coming up to you at the lottery counter,   Whispering in your ears the numbers to play, and walla, you win the $50M jackpot!  It was a billion to one chance or better.  It just blew them all away, and so, they followed Him and forgot about the fish. 


After the Resurrection, Peter, Paul, and Apollos went through the countryside, and as Paul recounts to the Corinthians, each of them passed on a part of the wisdom of Jesus.  People were divided, not unified like that band of fisherman- divided because they were looking for the part of the message that matched their liking rather than the integrated message, the wisdom of God.  And God’s wisdom, like Jesus teaching was less directed at specific avenues of thought or action by individuals.  Rather, it was “trust in me, and the Spirit working in me, and just follow me; just follow my word”.  The Corinthians were putting their efforts into arguing about parts of the message, rather than living the message.  They weren’t letting the spirit of God carry them away like it did the Apostles. 


Now Paul goes on to say that whether it was Paul or Peter or Apollos, they all belong to you and to me.  Yes, God’s word and spirit was working through each of them.  And not only that, but the inspiration shared through these three great teachers belongs to all of us, just as we should belong to Christ- that is, follow His will for us; and just as Christ belonged to God, that is, followed God’s will for Him.  Paul is exhorting them to get with the teaching rather than argue about it, and let the spirit carry them away as God wills. 


Are we like the fisherman in the Gospel, or like the Corinthians?  God’s message is one of spirit and life.  We are supposed to grab onto life, and live it to the fullest in the ways that God prompts us.  Yes, we need to know about God and what is right and wrong.  But God prompts us to be unselfish, concerned for others, and supportive of each other- not just concerned for self.  When it’s about you, what you think, what you want, controlling your destiny, picking and choosing from what God tells you through his teachers to suit your agenda, then you’ve got it wrong, just like the Corinthians did. 


Indeed, when you get it right, you will echo the words of our psalmist this morning:  “Who may go up the mountain of the LORD?   Who can stand in his holy place?  The clean of hand and pure of heart, who are not devoted to idols, who have not sworn falsely.  They will receive blessings from the LORD, and justice from their saving God.  Such are the people that love the LORD, that seek the face of the God of Jacob.”